The Hague, The Netherlands
Posted on 8/16/03
I chose to visit The Hague after Amsterdam because I thought
the contrasting cities would be a fun, wacky change. Boy was I right. Amsterdam
and The Hague couldn’t have been more different if one of them were
constructed completely upside-down. In Amsterdam you could get involved in
every imaginable sin 24 hours a day with just a few minutes of prep time.
The Hague was all business with the World Court as it’s center-piece.
Amsterdam was old, cramped and drenched in history. If I didn’t know
better, I’d say that The Hague had been built in the past 30 years,
with progressive street designs, huge squares and modern buildings with wonderfully
spacious bathrooms. Amsterdam had a palpable anything goes atmosphere. The
vibes I got in The Hague were subdued and content, but serious.
I walked around The Hague for four hours on the day of my arrival.
I didn’t see a single pan-handler, tripping doper or even a statue guy.
I’m told that there’s a red light district hidden in there somewhere,
but it sounds like you really have to be looking for it, unlike Amsterdam
where it’s in your face like a bee to orange soda.
I stayed at the Stay Okay hostel which was a disaster of disorganization
and ineptitude. Something went wrong just about every time I walked in the
door of that place. They lost my reservation, then they stuck me in a room
that I discovered upon returning at 11:30 at night was completely full of
slumbering people on a bike tour. The dipshit night guy suggested that I sleep
on a hide-away bed in the full room that, when pulled out all the way, not
only blocked the only exit, but also put me directly in the path to the only
bathroom servicing the eight person room, making an uninterrupted night’s
sleep about as likely as being killed in a freak Krispy Kream doughnut accident.
After demanding a real bed in another room, the aforementioned dipshit night
guy eventually found another bed for me, but failed to change anything in
the computer, so when my key card wouldn’t read the next day, the desk
staff proceeded to give me a new card, coded for my old room, etc, etc, etc.
The reason why I started bitching about that was so it would
come as no surprise to hear that when I requested the map/information brochure
for The Hague from a member of the crack-team of desk knobs, the girl handed
over the Italian version and I didn’t unfold it and discover the blunder
until I was almost two miles away. Judging from what I could piece together
from the Italian brochure, The Hague had a lot to offer in the way of art
and museums, but I was really only interested in one thing; Scheveningen beach.
I had been in Europe for over two months by that point and somehow I had not
stepped foot on a single, true ocean beach in that time. My only concrete
plan in The Hague was to rectify that situation. The sky was a hazy mess the
day I arrived, yet the air temperature was still hotter than an Amsterdam
peep show booth, so I delayed the beach trip until the following day when
the sun came back in all it’s heat wave glory. Scheveningen was huge
and lined with hotels, casinos and cafes charging three Euros for an eight
ounce bottle of Coke. The beach was packed. I walked for quite a while before
I found a place with an adequate amount of personal space. I unfurled the
sheet that I had stolen from the hostel to use as a beach towel, punched up
some tunes on my MP3 player and laid back on the sheet for some quality time
with the sun.
What seemed like a stiff, but nice ocean breeze while I was
standing turned out to be an incessant sand storm six inches off the beach.
I could feel the sand lightly pelting me as I lay there, but I didn’t
think much about it until I reached up to wipe a bead of sweat from my forehead
and got a gritty smear instead. I sat up and touched my face again and felt
nothing but a fine film of sand. I thought perhaps it was just my hands. I
wiped them off on the sheet and tried again. Yep, sand was covering every
inch of exposed skin. Just then, another bead of sweat carrying a few sand
particles snaked down the bridge of my nose and landed in the inside corner
of my right eye! Emergency! Emergency! I moved to clear my eye instinctively
before I realized that my sandy fingers were just adding to the problem. Aig!
I tried cleaning my hands off on the sheet, but it had too much sand on it
to do any good. The pain started to become unbearable. I lurched off the sheet,
yanked it off the ground and started shaking it off, causing everyone down
wind of me to get a pasting of sand. Once I was satisfied that the sheet was
sand free, I used it to wipe my face, but this only succeeded in spreading
the sand around and irritating my skin. By this point, I was sure that some
of the sand was under my contact lens and doing permanent damage to my cornea.
I needed to get it out. I staggered down to the water, barely managing to
avoid stomping dozens of people as I only had one watery eye to work with.
The bed sheet got under my footing and I fell face first into the sand again.
Now sand was hopelessly caked all over my face. Totally blind, I reeled in
what I thought was the general direction of the ocean, but instead I staggered
several steps to my left into a giant pit that three little kids had been
furiously digging for about two hours. The fall wrenched my ankle and jammed
my right arm about three inches into my shoulder. Apparently the little kids
thought I had jumped into their pit because I wanted to be buried, because
all three of them started shoveling sand onto me. I struggled to my feet,
swearing and wailing in pain while I swung blindly at the little kids. I must
have looked like a sand monster and sounded like a sand monster that had just
stubbed his toe. The kids panicked and ran off. I crawled the last few feet
to the water and plunged in, briefly forgetting that my wallet, map and key
card were in my pockets, but by then I was in so much agony that I would have
jumped into three inches of water, head first with the Dutch crown jewels
in my pockets. I had sand in pretty much every orifice. I desperately clawed
at my eyes, pulling out my contacts and trying to flush my eyes out with the
salty seawater, which didn’t feel too great, but compared to the sand
it was like a sterilized saline wash. When I was finally able to open both
of my eyes, I saw that I had an audience of about 1,000 people, including
the extremely unhappy people that I sprayed with sand and the parents of the
frightened children in the front row waiting to bitch my ass out. Just then,
a seagull swooped down and shit on me…. OK, none of that really happened.
What actually happened was that a bead of sand-free sweat went into my eye,
I reached to clear it and stopped myself one centimeter short of putting a
sandy finger in my eye and then the visualization of what might have transpired
if I had put that finger in my eye washed over me and I decided to share it
with you. Fun, wasn’t it?
After a fair amount of time at the beach and painstakingly removing
sand from my entire body I went to The Hague’s littlest tourist draw,
Madurodam. Madurodam is a theme park of miniaturized models (on a 1:25 scale)
of Dutch historic sights and attractions. The place reminded me a lot of Legoland®.
The little models were spread out in all directions and you were given a booklet
with information and background on each model and it’s historic significance.
Although I found this very cool and educational at first, by the time I had
managed to view and read about all 170 exhibits, I was confident
that I had suffered through enough miniature models and Dutch history to last
me well into my decomposing grave.
While in The Hague, I established a tight travel schedule for
the following 18 days that would take me through nine cities in five countries
in time for me to meet some friends in the Costa del Sol for a week of “vacation”
at the end of August. Like all this wasn’t enough of a vacation for
me in the first place. Ha ha! The schedule that I had laid out infused a small
amount of anxiety in me over the precious little time that I had allotted
to explore each city and thoroughly write about it. Well, no pain, no…
well, I didn’t really have that much to gain, but who cares?
At the urging of some natives, I planned to spend my last two
days in The Netherlands in a small southern city called Maastricht, where
I could lay low, finish the essays on The Netherlands and mentally prepare
myself for the next two weeks of high speed traveling and writing.
Go to Maastricht